The 2014 NFL Draft is in the rearview mirror and grades have already been passed out to all 32 teams. But who really did their homework and grabbed a big-time contributor later in the draft? We'll take a look at the five best bargain picks in each division this week, starting today with AFC North and NFC North teams:
NFL Media analyst Charley Casserly thinks West could become the starter in Cleveland sooner than most people think. That would make him quite the steal as a late third-rounder, and the tailback certainly has the skills to take over in the backfield. He's a strong runner who knows how to burst through the hole and is a better pass-catcher than most think. With little depth behind Ben Tate, don't sleep on the Browns getting a nice starter out of this Towson product.
Jernigan, a player rated by some as a top-20 guy heading into the draft, was picked in the middle of the second round -- that's a huge steal for Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome. He'll be able to learn from Haloti Ngata and other quality veterans on the Ravens' defense. Make no mistake about it, the team landed a highly talented football player much later in the draft than many expected him to go.
Interior linemen always get overlooked, but this is a quality starter who can play both guard spots in addition to center. He's a little better as a run blocker than he is in the passing game, but that's not to knock his ability in the latter area. He's strong and smart, and should be able to turn into a nice starter for the Bengals. He'll fit in perfectly in this tough division.
He timed slower than most expected during tests this offseason, but he's a solid player on the field. One of the better hitters at his position in college, he can slide right into the rotation as an inside linebacker for Dick LeBeau's unit and help shore up the Steelers' run defense. He's a smart blitzer who knows how to get around defenders and Zumwalt should have a big presence on the team's special-teams units. Zumwalt, a sixth-round pick, will be able to contribute more than some outside the team's front office expect.
Baltimore was always going to get a back in the draft this year, and the team might have a good one on its hands with the small-school runner from Coastal Carolina. He had a big senior year, and has proven to be a talented rusher with great size and solid speed. He's not a burner, but he runs hard, knows how to hit the hole and can help right away as a pass blocker. He should complement Ray Rice well as a big back and that could allow him to find a nice role on the Ravens' offense.
He slipped to the middle of the third round, but the Lions might have picked up one of the best centers in the draft. Swanson is a nice fit in the Lions' offensive scheme and he's smart enough to pick things up quickly and start early on. You rarely find players who started more than 50 college games these days, but Swanson is one of them and should provide a nice blocker in the middle of the line for years to come.
One of the most reliable receivers in the draft, Abbrederis is a savvy wide receiver who can make all the tough catches for Aaron Rodgers. He has fantastic hands and, while he's not the fastest player, he's pretty quick. The team will likely put him in motion and move him around so he's not jammed off the line, and he could be a quality addition to an already good offense.
NFL Media draft analyst Mike Mayock has already said this was a great pick, and it's not hard to see why he feels that way. The Vikings get a reliable, physical lineman who can play early. He doesn't excel in every area, but is a solid football player who can be trusted to do whatever is asked of him. He can be a spot starter at tackle, but probably will play inside to help pave the way for Adrian Peterson.
One of the top rushers in college football the past season, Carey gives the Bears a great runner who should fit their scheme well as a rotational back. He has some mileage on him, but has shown to be very durable while at Arizona. He finds an opening and hits it hard while bouncing off defenders. He won't run away from many folks in the NFL, but has good enough speed to make some quality gains in the league.
We can't leave the Ivy League pick out of this discussion. Surprisingly quick for someone his size, Reid can disengage from a blocker and get to the backfield from the middle of the line. He still has to develop and refine his skills, but there's definitely some upside given his frame. He'll be a rotational player at the outset of his career, but could be somebody who eventually helps fill Nick Fairley's role if the latter doesn't perform in his contract year.